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Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak Fired — Magic Johnson Named President of Basketball Operations

By: Pete Zayas

What We Know 

-Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak have been relieved of their duties, effective immediately. John Black was also relieved.

-Magic Johnson has taken Jim’s place as the President of Basketball Operations. 

“Effective immediately, Earvin Johnson will be in charge of all basketball operations and will report directly to me. Our search for a new General Manager to work with Earvin and Coach Luke Walton is well underway and we hope to announce a new General Manager in short order.” -Jeanie Buss

-NBA Agent Rob Pelinka is being reported as the front-runner to be the next Lakers General Manager, serving under Magic Johnson.

-Ramona Shelburne is reporting that Ryan West’s (Assistant GM) influence within the organization will grow, at least in the interim.

-The trade deadline is in 2 days.

I’m neither here to bury, nor praise Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak. Their respective legacies and the reasons why they were fired will be hotly debated amongst Laker fans, bloggers, and reporters alike over the next few weeks. However, they suddenly represent the past, and what I want to sort through is what happens next.


What happens in the next 48 hours?

From here on out, this post becomes deeply speculative.

The timing of this organizational shakeup is considerably more surprising than the fact that it actually happened. The writing was on the wall when Magic was brought into the fold (arguably even before that), and the speed with which the Lakers have a front-runner for the GM position suggests that such a process has been in the works for a while. The three conclusions that seem most logical, either individually or in some combination, are:

1) The DeMarcus Cousins trade and the Lakers’ inability to acquire him was the final straw.

2) Jeanie Buss & Magic Johnson didn’t want to give Jim & Mitch the opportunity to make another move in what would have been their last opportunity to do so.

3) Magic Johnson and the incoming regime have been working the phones themselves, and have designs on executing a trade of their own prior to Thursday’s trade deadline.

 The second option seems more plausible than the first and third. While Jeanie & Magic may very well have been displeased with Mitch & Jim’s inability to land Cousins, especially considering the pittance that he was eventually traded for, it strains credulity to imagine that this would have ultimately changed anything regarding Jim & Mitch’s future with the franchise. Magic’s media tour, brazen comments regarding his desire to be the final voice on basketball matters (lobbying for Jim’s position, essentially), and Kevin Ding’s most recent column enumerating the failures of Jim & Mitch’s tenure all pointed in the same direction.

This was happening regardless of whether or not they acquired DeMarcus Cousins. 

Additionally, the idea of Magic and a secret cabal of associates working the phones, trying to orchestrate trades behind the backs of Jim & Mitch, seems implausible. In a league of sharks and guppies, the front offices they were negotiating with would have assuredly leaked such dysfunction and palace intrigue within the Lakers organization. That isn’t to say that a deal won’t be made within the next 48 hours, with a Lou Williams deal being the most obvious move, but every negotiation is likely beginning at square one. 

As is usually the case, the truth is probably closest to the simplest explanation. Jeanie Buss & Magic Johnson knew that the tenures of Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak were through, it was pointless to continue a charade that suggested otherwise, and they were not going to sign off on any last-ditch personnel changes that they didn’t orchestrate themselves. 

Jeanie said on Spectrum:

“This was a very difficult decision. It was so hard for me, that I probably waited too long & for that I apologize.”

 

The wild card in the next 48 hours is Ryan West. His prior level of involvement may be the difference between existing negotiations with other teams being able to continue, or if they’re starting from scratch as the clock ticks away.


The Roles of Magic Johnson, Ryan West, & the Next GM

 

Despite the extraordinary events of the day, and a degree of distaste for how it was all handled, I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of a Magic Johnson, (presumably) Rob Pelinka, & Ryan West triumvirate.

It’s important to consider where the Lakers are and where they’re going, rather than where they’ve been. The best arguments in favor of Jim & Mitch were relatively successful drafts that restocked a cupboard bereft of young talent, including a couple of picks that were beyond the draft positions where you’d expect that to happen. Yet even their most ardent supporters would concede that they’ve been anywhere from poor to disastrous in Free Agency, from ill-conceived (and failed, thankfully) max contract offers to Carmelo Anthony & Dwight Howard, overlooking Isaiah Thomas, and the massive deals that they ultimately gave to Timofey Mozgov & Luol Deng. The last team-building mechanism, the trade market, is a place where Jim & Mitch excelled over their tenures but were very selective. It doesn’t matter too much if you’re a 48% 3-point shooter when you’re only shooting one per game.

The simple reality is that going forward, Free Agency & the trade market will be much more important components of the Lakers’ future than the draft will be, they’ve retained the guy who was arguably the most instrumental in the success of those drafts (West), and massively upgraded their salesmanship abilities by going from Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak to Magic Johnson & (presumably) Rob Pelinka, greatly improving their chances in Free Agency.

The fantasy in my head goes something like this.

Ryan West is the organization’s personnel guy. Magic & Pelinka have input but ultimately defer to his knowledge and expertise regarding which collegiate players are better than others, which free agents are bargains, which high priced free agents are overvalued, and his general perspective on how the on-court elements of basketball work in 2017.

Rob Pelinka is the dealmaker. He leverages his relationships with players and front offices to execute the triumvirate’s agreed upon vision. West is said to be respected around the league but has minimal, ancillary experience in terms of actually executing transactions. Magic Johnson certainly does, in a number of different industries, but Pelinka’s been an active and uninterrupted participant in the basketball world for years. He’d be the guy who actually gets things done, whether it’s on the trade market or by constructing and delivering pitches in Free Agency.

Magic Johnson is the face of the franchise. If nothing else, the departure of Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak gives the Lakers a unified front for the first time since the beloved Dr. Jerry Buss died. The narrative over the last several years has been that the Lakers are a dysfunctional franchise, with quarreling owners who can’t get on the same page. Who’s to blame for that simply doesn’t matter anymore. The Lakers now have a clear chain of command, with Magic sitting atop of the basketball operations, where he can be the public face that is presented to the media, prospective free agents, and fans, all of whom recognize that he is the person who is ultimately responsible for the product on the floor. He certainly has a say in personnel matters…the final say, in fact…but decides to lean on his support staff as heavily as he has in his successful, post-career business ventures.

The nightmare scenario involves Magic & Pelinka conflating their expertise in other areas of basketball with their abilities to make personnel evaluations and decisions, and their more experienced counterparts around the league eat them alive.

Let’s take a moment to state the obvious. Rob Pelinka is one of the most influential power brokers in the NBA today, with an impressive list of clients that include Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Chris Bosh, Avery Bradley, and others. Magic Johnson, of course, will be working outside of a building that rightfully immortalized his on-court brilliance by putting his own damn statue in front of it. By any measure, these two are giants within their respective areas of expertise.

Yet many legends who’ve made the transition into NBA front offices have been spectacular failures, and their brilliance in other areas of the game doesn’t translate. Does Magic take a couple of weeks to read up on the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and think that his knowledge on the topic rivals other decision makers around the league that know it inside and out…or does he hire (and more importantly, rely upon) an expert? Does he sit courtside at a college game and blithely comment on how scouting talent is the “easy part” in between bites of popcorn, as he did recently while watching UCLA…or does he acknowledge that he should defer to people like Ryan West so the Lakers don’t end up with Brandon Knight, Jahlil Okafor, Jimmer Fredette, or others that he’s advocated for in the past? Does Rob Pelinka believe that he’s suddenly an expert on personnel and roster construction, step on West’s toes, and then fail while negotiating with the same NBA front offices that he’d been commissioned to oppose for so many years, as agent-turned-GM Lon Babby did with the Phoenix Suns?

Magic Johnson & Rob Pelinka have skill sets that will likely be simpatico, but how much they rely upon people like Ryan West…rather than presuming that their expertise and success in other areas of the game will transfer to personnel decisions…will determine how successful this new regime will be.

Oh, and that elephant in the room? You know, the “what does this mean for the future of D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and the other young guys” one? I have no freaking idea, I’m just along for the ride.

 

Go Lakers.

 

 

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Game Preview: Suns vs. Lakers – 2/15/17

 

Lakers, Suns Face Off  in Final Game Before All-Star Break

By: John Lu

 

After struggling through much of December and January, the Lakers have played better as of late. Their recent stretch re-introduced glimpses of the promising style of basketball what was played throughout the first 20 games of the season, when the team exceeded expectations on their way to a 10-10 record.

In the last game before the All Star break and the trade deadline, the Lakers will face off against the Suns for the third time this season. In the season series between the two Western conference bottom-dwellers, the two teams have split the first two meetings – the Lakers winning the first 119-108 and losing the second 115-119. In these two games, the Suns starting backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker averaged a combined 51.5 points and 11 assists per game on 57.6% true shooting. The Lakers will need to formulate their game plan around containing these two to maximize their chance of winning.


Devin Booker Shooting the Three

 

 

Why it Worked: Booker has shot extremely well in 2017 – averaging 44.4% and 38.2% from long distance in January and February, respectively. Part of the reason behind his high three-point percentage is his teammates’ ability to find him for open shots beyond the arc. On the season 78.1% of his three-point makes were assisted.

In this play, Bledsoe brings the ball up and Tyson Chandler sets a screen on his man about 40 feet away from the basket as the ball crosses half court. This high screen and roll action allows Bledsoe to accelerate and easily get by John Henson (#31 on the Bucks) with a left-to-right crossover. As he penetrates into the paint, all five Bucks defenders collapse onto him, leaving both Booker and T.J. Warren wide open behind the three-point line. Bledsoe makes the correct read and swings the ball out to Booker. Splash.

How to Adjust: The high screen and roll action puts the Bucks’ defense in a reactionary situation and Booker’s defender unnecessarily helps on Bledsoe’s drive – allowing Booker to be wide open at the three-point line. It’s imperative for Booker’s defender to be disciplined to minimize the amount of open three-point looks for him.

In closeout situations, the defender must try to run Booker off the three-point line. On the season, he is shooting a suboptimal 37.8% from 10 feet to the three-point line and has yet to show the ability to efficiently create offense for others (averaging 3.6 assists and 3.0 turnovers per 36 minutes with 15.9% AST% and 12.4% TOV%). As a result, Booker’s defender should aim to attack him on the three-point line and force him to try to make a play for others.


Bledsoe on the Drive

 

 

Why it Worked: Bledsoe’s offensive game is best when he drives into the paint. For the season he is finishing around the rim at 61.4% while averaging career bests in both free throw attempt rate and free throw percentage (0.434 and 84.9%, respectively). In addition, he is also very capable of creating offense for others as the defense closes in on him (31.2% AST% and 14.7% TOV% this season).

In this play, the Suns again run high screen and roll. Unlike the other play, Chandler’s defender is not in position to hedge high and allows Bledsoe to accelerate and drive directly into the paint. Jameer Nelson gets caught on the screen and loses the angle to cut Bledsoe off. As a result, he steps around Nelson for a layup at the rim.

How to Adjust: It would be best for the defense to prioritize containing Bledsoe on the drive and force him to settle from the perimeter. On the season he is shooting just 35.9% from 10 feet to the three-point line and 32.5% beyond it. His outside efficiency is very pedestrian compared to his ability to finish at the rim or create open shots for others. Limiting Bledsoe’s penetration opportunities also minimizes kick outs to open teammates at the three-point line. Therefore, putting a quicker or longer perimeter defender (Clarkson or Russell) on him and having the big man hedge higher in screen and roll situations will help to curtail Bledsoe on the offensive end.

 


Exploit the Suns’ Perimeter Defense

 

 

Why it Worked: The Suns are the third worst team in the league in terms of defensive efficiency at 109.4 points per 100 possessions. The Bucks run a baseline loop play for Jason Terry. Although the two screeners make minimal contact with Booker, he still missteps around the Henson screen and forfeits an angle for Terry to catch and drive into the paint. While all this is happening, Bledsoe does not bother to apply any pressure on the passer, allowing him to accurately deliver the ball to the cutting Terry without concern for a deflection. As Terry drives into the teeth of the defense, he has options to either dish to Henson in the paint, Giannis at the three-point line, or to take the shot for himself. Booker has no choice but the commit the foul.

How to Adjust: The Lakers would be wise to run plenty of off-ball action against the poor Suns defensive backcourt. Bledsoe is averaging a career worst -0.5 DBPM while Booker has always been a negative defender at -2.9 DBPM. The Suns clearly have both communication issues and individual technique deficiencies on the defensive end and running motion off-ball plays will definitely open up offensive opportunities for the Lakers. Russell this season has shown the ability to make correct reads in these situations and the whole team will benefit by putting him at the trigger position.

Notes: The Suns and Lakers are two of the fastest teams in the league in terms of offensive pace – the Suns 4th at 101.8 possessions per game and the Lakers 6th at 100.6 possessions per game. At the same time the two teams are among the league’s worst in defensive efficiency – the Suns at 28th at 109.4 points per 100 possessions and the Lakers 29th at 110.1 points per 100 possessions. As a result, this game should be a high scoring affair. Over the past three games (excluding SAC), D’Angelo Russell has averaged only 5 field goal attempts while playing 23.3 minutes per game.    

 

Game Preview: Bucks vs. Lakers – 2/10/17

 

Lakers Conclude Grammy Trip in Milwaukee

 

By: Tom Zayas

 

The Lakers are the first team to play the Bucks since Jabari Parker’s injury on Feb. 8th. He finished the season averaging 20.1 points on 16 field goal attempts per game, which partially demonstrates the efficiency with which he’s been playing with this season. A lot of the Bucks’ offense depended on Parker operating in the high post and he performed well at it, shooting a career-best 53% eFG and 36.5% from three. When Parker went down, Beasley came in against Miami and scored 11 points in the 4th quarter, as he is wont to do. I’d suspect Beasley will slide into the starting lineup in Parker’s place, and his scoring ability has the potential to haunt the Lakers all night long. Giannis Antetokounmpo will shoulder more of the burden on offense in Parker’s absence, and get your popcorn ready to see how Brandon Ingram matches up with the Freak. Let’s check out some film to see what the Lakers will be facing on the court in Milwaukee. 

 

Freak in the 1 – 5 Double-High Screen

The Bucks like to run a double-high screen for Antetokounmpo with the point guard and the center setting the screens, which virtually guarantees a mismatch against Giannis’ length and speed. 

Why it Worked: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ridiculous length helps him get around Chriss and to the basket for an and-1. He two steps his way into position from the free throw line, but it’s the double-high screen from Dellevedova and Henson the allows the Freak to create momentum for his long strides toward the basket. The play creates multiple mismatches — as Henson rolls with Bledsoe matched up with him, he’s ready to clean up Giannis’ miss or receive a pocket pass for a dunk. 

How to Adjust: I’m almost certain we’ll see this play from Milwaukee early in the game, so let’s assume that Ingram, Russell, and Black will be defending against it. Ingram should fight over the screens and try to keep up with Giannis from behind.  Russell needs to tag (jump in front of) Henson once he rolls (and contest Dellevedova if kicked to him for 3), and Black should get into Gianni’s body and eliminate his ability to go east-west with each step. All that being said, forcing him one direction and bodying him up without fouling is easier said than done.

I’m fascinated to see if Ingram is able to go over the screens with Giannis, trail him, and contest his shot at the basket from behind. Ingram’s not strong enough yet to be able to defend Giannis with any consistency, but it will be interesting to see whether or not Ingram can show flashes of mitigating elite length and speed in the NBA. 


 

Lengthy Bucks

The Bucks are particularly good at using their length to affect passing lanes. At 9th in the league in steals per game, they disturb passing lanes and create easy transition opportunities.

Why it Worked: Milwaukee is vulnerable against skip passes as their rotations have the tendency to get scrambled in half-court sets, but guards get into trouble when they try to go over the top of the Bucks for skip passes. Devin Booker tries to skip the ball across the defense but waits too long and Greg Monroe obstructs the passing angle with his length. The deflection leads to a transition opportunity, where the Bucks excel at team passing as seen in the clip above. 

How to Adjust: The best options to mitigate the Bucks’ length is to make quick decisions on the skip pass before they can obscure passing angles, make bounce passes, or drag the trapping bigs out to create a passing angle for the short roll. All of these things D’Angelo Russell excels at for his age, but chances are Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams will rack up a few turnovers because of the Bucks’ length. 


 

Interior Passing

Milwaukee is second in the league in paint touch points (16 ppg) behind only Golden State. Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo frequently operate out of the high post, but are also extremely good cutters off-ball and create passing angles for layups — a trait that trickles down to the Bucks’ role players as well. Here’s Greg Monroe delivering an excellent back-door bounce pass to Mirza Teletovic for an and-1 layup.

Why it Worked: T.J. Warren tries to ice the screen from Brogdon, and Teletovic properly reads the back door cut. Monroe delivers an excellent bounce pass that passes Teletovic open, and the Suns’ interior defense isn’t prepared to contest the shot. Whether it’s Monroe, Giannis, Beasley, or Brogdon, the Bucks are an excellent interior passing team who create inside shot opportunities from penetration and cutting off the high post. 

How to Adjust: It will be important for the Lakers to not overplay the perimeter catch, as the Bucks don’t have many quality three-point shooter that you worry about. Teletovic is probably their most consistent shooter, but he’s still capable of beating you back door if you assume that shooting threes is all that he can do. As the Lakers scheme to beat the Bucks, I’d recommend forcing them to beat you from deep on Friday night, as they have limited outside shooting and shot creators without Jabari Parker out of the lineup. Forcing the Bucks into mid to long range jumpers all night will help mitigate the Bucks biggest strengths — fast-break points and points in the paint. 

 

 

 

Game Preview: Pistons vs. Lakers – 2/8/17

Lakers’ New Starting Unit Seeks Second Straight Win in Detroit

 
By: Michael Taylor (@LFRMBT)

 

On Monday night, the Lakers steamrolled the Knicks after swapping veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov for Brandon Ingram and Tarik Black in the starting lineup. Although Black posted an insane +34 and net rating of 78 against the Knicks, his minutes could be limited against Andre Drummond’s size, as Black tends to struggle against bigger, more traditional NBA centers. There’s a chance that Luke inserts Mozgov into the starting unit to matchup with Drummond (and appease Moz), but after the success in New York, he might roll with his adjustment to see what this lineup can do against a team who hasn’t completely given up on the season (ahem, Knicks). Let’s take a deeper look into the January 15th game against the Pistons to see how the Lakers can adjust in order to snag their second straight win.  

Quick-Ish

In the previous game the Lakers played the Pistons, Ish Smith gave his team a nice boost off the bench — posting a +17 on the night in only 20 minutes.

Why it Worked: Julius Randle is slow to get back on defense, essentially creating a 5 on 4 opportunity for Detroit. Baynes sets the drag screen for Smith at the elbow, giving him enough space to survey the floor as well as pulling Black out a few more feet from the basket. Since Harris (presumably Randle’s man) is unguarded, he cuts directly to the basket. Ingram is too late in reacting to Harris’ cut through the lane, and Smith hits Harris for an easy dunk.

How to Adjust: Whenever the Pistons insert Smith into the game for Reggie Jackson, they transform into a faster team that opts for transition/early offense. The Lakers are 28th in the NBA in giving up fast break points, surrendering 15.0 PPG. In all cases, the Lakers need to get back in transition, but especially when Ish Smith comes in. The Lakers aren’t proficient enough on defense to go long stretches without everyone back on defense. In transition/early offense, Los Angeles needs to be clear in calling out defensive assignments. 


 

Pistons’ Spacing

Why it Worked: The play starts out in horns with Smith passing to Drummond, then cutting to set a stagger screen for Stanley Johnson. Drummond then goes into a dribble handoff with Marcus Morris. Nick Young goes under Drummond’s screen, giving Morris enough space to rise and drill the three.

How to Adjust: Stan Van Gundy is notorious for running four out to maximize the pace inside the three-point line to run pick and roll with Drummond. The combo of Morris and Harris shot 6-15 from three (23 points each), which opens the floor for plays like this.

At 34.1%, Marcus Morris is not an elite three-point shooter and Nick Young probably does right by going under Drummond to cut off a possible drive. However, he needs to do a better job fighting Morris to get to the spot that Morris wants to get to. Drummond is extremely unlikely to take off and drive to the basket, so when he dribbles in the half court, he’s looking to hand off to someone who can handle the rock or drain it from outside. Instead of following Morris, Young should jump his path. Although this might lead to a back-cut, the Lakers would do well in taking their chances with Drummond trying to make that pass.


 

MBT <3 DAR

D’Angelo Russell had a nice game scoring 20 points in just 26 minutes, with 14 points were a result of shots in or around the paint.

Aggressive Russell is the best Russell. Throughout the game, D’Angelo did a great job of attacking the smaller Detroit guards and getting into the paint. When his shot is falling, it sets up his passing.

Here, he’s posted up on the smaller Reggie Jackson, as Baynes hedges, Mozgov slips the screen, Russell throws a beautiful no look over the head pass. Due to Detroit having smaller guards, the Lakers would be wise to run their offense through Russell, and let him take advantage of the height differential.

MBT: “This clip below isn’t relevant; I just think it was funny how D’Lo broke Andre’s ankles and no one noticed.”

***Editor’s Note*** 

Michael thought we wouldn’t include this video, but we have to so y’all can understand why dude is so fired up about DAR (& why you should be, too). 

Notes: Andre Drummond is shooting a career best from the free throw line this season with .438%. If he gets close to the basket, FOUL THIS MAN IMMEDIATELY. The Pistons are 1st in the league in DREB% and the Lakers are 7th in OREB%, so the winner of this game will likely control this key area — Tarik Black’s energy (15.2 OREB %) could come in handy in the starting lineup. Both teams are bottom 5 in the league in AST%, so you’ll probably see a lot of stagnant offense with below average assist totals. With their traditional back-to-the-basket center Andre Drummond, the Pistons play the 5th slowest pace in the league (96.76), and the Lakers would benefit from pushing the pace and trying to control tempo in their favor.  

LFR Roundtable 2/5/17 – Rest of the Season & Beyond

 

D’Angelo Russell & Julius Randle have recently been criticized for their inconsistent effort level. Is this a long term concern, or just immaturity that they’ll likely grow out of?

 

Pete Zayas (@LakerFilmRoom): I’m more concerned about Randle than I am about Russell. With Randle, he has a very distinct on/off switch that is heavily tied to whether or not he has the ball, or defending it. Once he moves into an off ball scenario on either end, he tends to disconnect from the action, and I think that’s difficult to correct. In Russell’s case, he certainly has nights where he’s in an overall malaise, but his level of engagement tends to be either good across the board or bad across the board. That said, the frequency with which both of them decide to not show is alarming, but they’re not old enough for them to be fatal flaws in either case. If you listen to fans around the league, this is a fairly common criticism of young players.

Tom Zayas (@LFRTommy): I’d prefer to describe it as a lack of consistent engagement on the court, as Randle and Russell are both guilty of sleepwalking at times. Russell has a bad habit of keeping his arms by his sides on defense, un-crouched and out of position. Randle’s bad habit is to wait for the penetrating ball handler to come at him in the paint, when by that point he’s already lost the defensive chess game. I have some long term concerns, but I think it’s too early to say whether or not this will be a problem 3 years down the line. 

Michael Taylor (@LFRMBT): I’m not one to question a player’s effort usually, but I do have concerns, although I think they’ll eventually grow out of it. Currently, I think the two have hit a wall, like young players tend to do. For Randle, it’s just about building consistency. With Russell, I worry that his overall effort level is related to how much fun he’s having. I’m worried that he tries too much to keep his teammates happy at his own expense, instead of just playing the game. Hopefully, he’ll figure out the right combination of the two.

VP Sinha (@shaqpropagation): They might grow out of it, but I’m concerned with both. With Randle, I suspect it comes down to conditioning and mentality: there’s only so much energy to expend, and right now that’s usually only when he’s on ball. So reasonably you hope as he gets in better shape and realizes the off ball impact he can have, he’ll stop taking plays off ball, but that’s obviously no guarantee. As for Russell, I think offensively he’ll be alright down the line, but he doesn’t seem to get offended if someone scores on him. The lack of fire there concerns me on his long term defensive potential. 

Chuck Lee (@FiendishOC): It’s basically youth more than anything. There’s some angst coming from the fanbase and media after this current losing stretch, but if you read between the lines at what Luke is actually saying about them, it’s just basic coaching stuff trying to get young players to form good habits. 

Between the two, I do have a bit more concern about Randle having that on/off switch in terms of engagement on the defensive end because that’s more mental than physical – but even that I believe may be due to lack of emphasis in this area from previous coaches. 


If you could change one thing about the Front Office’s approach, what would it be?

 

CL: Remember when the Lakers were getting flack for not sending anyone to the MIT conference and being late on SportVU? Consider that they made their first SportVU hire in 2013 when the Raptors already had a system that could interpret data, log defensive breakdowns and make informed suggestion on optimal defensive positioning (they had been working with SportVU since at least 2011).

The entire league is shifting over to Second Spectrum soon, which is basically SportVU on steroids with the amount of detail and context their system can pull from the on-court action through machine learning techniques. A few teams have been on board with that since 2013, including the Clippers. The past two NBA champions, the Cavs and Warriors, are also early adopters. Similarly to what happened with SportVU, 15 teams have since gotten the jump on the rest of the league in this service / technology. Teams like the Spurs and 76ers are hiring specialists in working with spatial data. There have been a few in-depth articles on the Lakers’ newfound commitment to analytics over the past few seasons. We can’t know for sure, but none of those pieces gave me any confidence that the Lakers have been one of those first few teams or are making strides in anything innovative. 

The Lakers used to be on the cutting edge of the strategy side of basketball (Bill Bertka was basically the first video coordinator and advance scout). It would be nice if they could get back out in front again. 

TZ: Once the summer rolls around, the Lakers’ Front Office is like a 17 year-old with disposable income (looking at you LFRMBT) — you know they aren’t spending that money well. While I appreciate they’re trying to improve each summer through free agency, I wish they had realized how to spend that money in a way that wasn’t so shortsighted. They’ll throw some more money around this summer, but if a big fish doesn’t bite, they shouldn’t settle for long contracts with aging role players (i.e. last summer’s deals). 

MT: Overall, I think that the FO has done a reasonable job given the circumstances (+ on drafting, – on FA). I do, however, believe that the FO needs to be 150% all in on developing the young core. L.A. is not going to poach a superstar – thank you, new CBA. The Lakers should devote all the resources at their expense to develop Russell, Randle, and Ingram. L.A. has the power to get a HOF like Magic or Nash to help give Russell invaluable insight, or bringing in Worthy to help Randle. If none of the kids hit, the FO & Company could sleep at night knowing they did everything within their power to develop the young talent on the roster. 

PZ: I’d like them to flex their financial muscle in ways that aren’t governed by the salary cap. They’re extremely profitable, and as such they should be throwing big money at the best assistant coaches, the best player development coaches, the best scouts, the best video coordinators, the best halftime entertainment, the best hot dog vendors, etc. These are all reinvestments into the team that help them grow as an organization, and I don’t think they’ve leveraged this as much as they should.

VS: I was a vocal proponent of making cheap deals like Lou Williams before the cap spike, and they should keep trying to make those kinds of deals. And not tying up money on bloated contracts in a summer where everyone has cap space and free agents have all the leverage. It’s a little late for that. Looking at the new CBA, we need to continue drafting well first and foremost. Beyond that, they should do a better job of trying to find undervalued, fairly young players like Isaiah Thomas, Hassan Whiteside, or Kyle Lowry… rather than wasting roster slots on guys like Huertas and MWP. 


 

Now that we’ve gotten a good look at this roster, who should the Lakers realistically look to pursue this offseason?

 

TZ: I wouldn’t mind seeing how much it takes to pry Ian Clark away from the Warriors (assuming Swaggy doesn’t pick up his option). He’s a good shooter with a nice first step, and he’s drastically reduced his turnovers this year. It’s not exactly an elite FA class, and I doubt the Lakers have a chance at any of the top tier FA’s, which is fine because I don’t think any of them would fit perfectly within the young core. The Lakers’ MO this summer should be to look for young players like Clark that can grow into their prime as the young guys are still developing. 

MT: I’d move on from Lou Will, and let Nick Young walk. Barring L.A. finds lottery luck once more, they will need a back-up point guard, and Patty Mills leads the list for me. He’s an underrated defender and a 40% three-point shooter who could share the floor with DAR. If Mills is off the market, Shaun Livingston is someone to look at, in my opinion. Another veteran PG that would be familiar to Luke’s system, able to facilitate and give 20 solid minutes off the bench.

PZ: The Lakers are deficient in two critical areas: passing & defense. I like Jrue Holiday quite a bit, but he’s likely a moot point of the Lakers keep their pick, and has a worrisome injury history. Serge Ibaka would project as a fantastic fit next to Julius Randle, with his rim protection and outside shooting, but also strikes me as someone we’d regret signing by Year 3, at the latest. 

To be honest, I don’t like this year’s Free Agent class at all, even amongst the bargains. If the Lakers strike out on the bigger free agents, as they likely will, I could be talking into throwing high-priced, 1-year deals at both Andre Igoudala & Shaun Livingston to help facilitate the style of play that we would like to see from the young players going forward. Although I suspect that there will be a market for Livingston beyond one year. I also wouldn’t mind throwing a similar 1-year deal at Nick Young, as the Lakers already lack outside shooting, even as he’s having a career year from distance.

CL: Seeing as how they’ll still be a season or two away from the top tier of free agents looking their way. I hope that they can pick up an athletic defensive wing at a reasonable price (and age). A guy who can ramp up the intensity level and be disruptive on defense without making mistakes could plug a lot of holes in the team defense. The Lakers are also in the bottom half of the league in transition scoring efficiency, with a lot of their young core putting up bad numbers in this area, so someone who can also get out and finish could help fill this gap.

VS: The new CBA means starts are likely to stay where they are and get paid a lot more. With that in mind, keeping salary flexibility for Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins in 2018 doesn’t make that much sense. Obviously, Hayward would be perfect, but that’s a pipe dream. It depends a lot on our draft situation: if we get Fultz or Ball, no thanks to George Hill. I’d have to look for specific suggestions, though. 

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Game Preview: Knicks vs. Lakers – 2/6/17

 

The Lakers Face Off Against Rising Star Kristaps Porzingis & the New York Knicks

 

By: John Lu (@JohnLu008)

 

After back-to-back close losses in Washington D.C. and Boston, the Lakers will travel to Madison Square Garden to conclude their season series with the Knicks for the middle game of their five game Grammy road trip. The two teams come into the contest after having underwhelming performances in January — the Lakers winning just 5 of their 15 games and the Knicks winning 5 out of 17 games. 

Back in December, the Knicks narrowly defeated the Lakers in a 118 – 112 win to take the first meeting of the season series. Although Knicks star Carmelo Anthony struggled with just 13 points on 4 – 16 shooting, his fellow starters Derrick Rose and Porzingis contributed a combined 51 points on 31 shots to seal the victory.

Our Editor-in-Chief Pete Zayas made a video analyzing the liability of the Lakers switching too much on defense against the Knicks. Be sure it check it out for a refresher.


 

Porzingis’ Perimeter Game

Why it Worked: Porzingis’ offensive game is unique due to his quick guard-like agility at 7’ 3” and his ability to shoot from the perimeter. His enormous standing height allows him to rarely have to worry about his outside shot being blocked. In the first play, Rose sets a flare screen to get Porzingis open for the catch. Afterwards, he uses his quickness to attack Randle’s closeout off the dribble and then simply rises over Russell’s switch defense to drain the midrange jump shot.

In the second play, Clarkson switches with Nance Jr. and closes out on Porzingis at the three-point line. However, because of Porzingis’ size, Clarkson’s contest doesn’t bother him in the slightest and he knocks down go-ahead three-pointer.

How to Adjust: Porzingis is shooting a very respectable 37.9% from three-point range this season so defenders need to close out hard to him to run him off the three-point line. In the first play, Russell reacts appropriately by pointing out the flare screen to Randle, but then he stays too far back in the paint on the switch and is out of position to challenge the midrange jump shot. The secondary defender on the Lakers needs to hedge higher in pick and roll situations to contain Porzingis off the dribble.

As Pete pointed out in his video, Porzingis shot very poorly in the first meeting when he was actually guarded by Lakers defenders at his own position in isolation situations. He was unable to effectively shoot over them as he did with the Lakers guards. Therefore, it is imperative for the Lakers defense to minimize switching between guards and bigs.


 

Derrick Rose in Transition

Why it Worked: In the first matchup in December, Derrick Rose’s play was reminiscent of his 2010-2011 MVP season as he shredded the Lakers transition defense on his way to 25 points on 12 out of 16 shooting from the field.

In the first play, Rose starts the fast break with three Lakers in front of him. Randle should have swung his hips earlier and sprinted to make contact with Rose to slow down the fast break. However, no one stops the ball and Rose is able to run in a direct line from one free-throw line to the other, ultimately getting into the lane for the floater. It’s a similar story with Russell in the second play; he is initially in good position to step in front of Rose but instead chooses to go for the interception and gets burned by Porzingis’ overhead pass. The result is unsurprising – another made floater by Rose.

How to Adjust: The team must make a conscious effort to run back on defense to contain the Knicks’ early transition offense. Specifically, the Lakers guards and wings need to do a better job of putting a body on Rose to make him change directions and slow down. Once Rose gets a full head of steam, it is difficult to contest his floaters in transition, especially with his high release point.


 Carmelo Anthony’s Midrange Game

Why it Worked: In this play, Anthony has the smaller Russell switched onto him and the Knicks team goes into an isolation set. The four other Knicks on the floor position themselves behind either the three-point line or the basket to discourage the Lakers defense from helping on the play. Russell knows that he’s not tall enough to affect Anthony’s shot and makes a mistake swiping at the ball with his left hand, allowing Anthony to step to his left side, rise up, and knock down a 14-foot jump shot.

How to Adjust: Carmelo Anthony is second in the league in total field goal attempts from between 10 feet to the three-point line. Despite shooting a respectable 45.5%, his points per possession from this distance is still below the overall league average points per possession. It would benefit the Lakers defense to switch less and continue to allow Anthony shoot from this range with Deng, Ingram, or Young guarding him instead of smaller (e.g. Russell) or slower (e.g. Mozgov) defenders. A repeat of Anthony’s inefficient offensive performance from the first meeting would definitely help the Lakers’ cause.

 

Notes: The Knicks and Lakers are two of the worst teams in terms of defensive efficiency – the Knicks at 24th with 107.8 points per 100 possessions and Lakers at 30th with 110.3 points per 100 possessions. The Knicks have the 3rd highest offensive rebounding rate at 27.7% while the Lakers have the 7th worst defensive rebounding rate at 75.5%. The Lakers big men need to consistently box out to deny the Knicks extra possessions on the offensive end. In the three games since returning from an MCL sprain, D’Angelo Russell has averaged 19.7 points, 9.0 assists, and 6.7 rebounds in 32.3 minutes per game.

 

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Game Preview: Wizards vs. Lakers – 2/2/17

Lakers Begin 5-Game Road Trip Against the Wizards

By: John Lu

The Lakers will kick off their annual Grammy trip this Thursday against the Wizards in Washington D.C. Despite starting their season with an underwhelming 7-12 record, the Wizards have increased their level of play and will come into the contest boasting a record of 28-10 after winning 9 out of their last 10 games.

The Wizards offense is headlined by 2017 All-Star John Wall and fellow backcourt mate Bradley Beal, a dynamic duo averaging a combined 44.7 points, 13.9 assists, and 7.4 rebounds per game this season. Wall is having an excellent year, averaging career highs in points, assists, steals, and true shooting percentage, while Beal is gradually establishing himself as one of the best shooting guards in the league.

Another key player in Washington’s offense is starting center Marcin Gortat. He has made a living in the NBA playing as John Wall’s pick and roll partner and using his 6’11” frame to set hard screens and crash the offensive glass. The Lakers’ best chance of winning comes from slowing down the Wall-Beal-Gortat trio on offense.

 

Wall’s Passing in the Pick and Roll

 

 

Why it Worked: Gortat does a spectacular job of blocking out T.J. McConnell with a stepup screen (i.e. setting the screen with his back facing the baseline, instead of the side of the defender in the case of a traditional screen) and then runs directly to the basket ready to catch a pass. Noel has to contain Wall on the drive and does a nice job of also staying close to Gortat to prevent a direct pass. However, Wall is able to find the opening by lobbing the ball ahead of Gortat and away from Noel to set up the alley-oop.

 

How to adjust: Communication between Gortat’s defender and the perimeter defender being screened is paramount. In this case, Noel should have made the direction of the incoming screen clear to McConnell so that he could adjust and minimize his contact with the screener. However, there was no communication here and McConnell is completely taken out of the play by the screen. If Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (#20 on the 76ers) decides to help and tag Gortat on the roll, then his man — Bradley Beal –would be left open.

 

Beal Moving Without the Ball

 

 

Why it Worked:  Beal curls around a Gortat screen to free himself up for an open three-point shot. Gortat does a terrific job making contact on the screen to create separation between Beal and the defender. Wall then delivers the ball with an on-target pass so that Beal can get into his shooting motion immediately after the catch. Wall setting up the play far out behind the three-point line also provides additional spacing by making his defender hesitant to help on Beal’s curl.

How to Adjust: Beal’s defender must commit to fully trailing him on screens and applying back pressure in order to run him off the three-point line. As of late, the Lakers big men have been hanging back in the paint in these situations to protect the rim against penetration after the curls. As a result, Beal will likely have many midrange opportunities; however, despite his above average midrange efficiency, his shots from that range are yielding only 0.92 points per possession, below the league overall average of 1.03 points per possession.

 

Gortat’s Offensive Rebounding & Wall’s Ability to Collapse the Defense

 

Why it Worked: Gortat is averaging a career best 3.1 offensive rebounds per game (12th best in the league) and is also 19th in the league for offensive rebounding percentage. Wall drives into the lane and draws a secondary defender to contest his shot, which opens up Gortat to establish great rebounding position right underneath the rim. Not surprisingly, he is able to put the ball back in for an easy score. 

How to Adjust: The Lakers are one of the worst (25th) defensive rebounding teams in the league at 32.4 per game. The Lakers big men need to make a conscious effort to box out Gortat on defense. He’s also highly adept at swatting offensive rebounds out to the perimeter players, which enables him to rebound effectively even when he’s boxed out. It’s on the Laker guards to be aware of this and put a body on the Wizards’ perimeter players to limit offensive rebound opportunities. Ivica Zubac has shown promise as a defensive rebounder after recent playing time, so it may be helpful to play him extended minutes against Gortat.

Notes: The Wizards are 9th in the league in true shooting percentage at 56.1% and 9th in offensive rating at 107.4, while the Lakers are 30th in defensive efficiency at 110.3. John Wall has drastically decreased his bad pass turnovers this year, as he only has 26 through 48 games. He’s averaged 148.16 bad pass turnovers per year in his first 6 seasons. Otto Porter has made significant strides in his 4th season, shooting an impressive 46.2% from 3 while boasting a staggering 129 offensive rating (and a respectable 106 defensive rating).

Game Preview: Nuggets vs. Lakers – 1/17/17

 

The Denver Nuggets will be a nice measuring stick for the Lakers.

Denver also boasts an intriguing collection of young talent in Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Nikola Jokic. They’re 2nd in the NBA in rebounding and average 15.2 Second Chance PPG, so the Lakers will need a strong collective effort to keep Denver off the glass. The Lakers should do their best to limit Nikola Jokic’s passing angles and attack Denver’s guards in the pick and roll.

Jokic Facilitating From the Top of the Key

 

Denver’s best passer isn’t Emmanuel Mudiay – it’s Nikola Jokic, who is second on the team with a 23.9 AST%. The Nuggets take advantage of Jokic’s savvy passing by running a high number of Iverson sets. Watch Gary Harris start out at the bottom of the screen — he’s running an Iverson cut where he cuts across the court, parallel to the free throw line.

Why it Worked: The play begins with Mudiay at the top, followed by a stagger screen by Jokic and Chandler. As Harris makes the Iverson cut, Jokic gets the ball at the three-point line and Danilo Gallinari moves from the weak side to fill Harris’s original spot, clearing out space for Harris to cut unimpeded to the basket. Harris then curls backdoor around the 2nd screen by Chandler and Jokic throws a perfect pass for an easy alley oop. Continue Reading